Bidders line up as Habitat set to change hands in days

HABITAT, the home furnishing chain, could be sold as early as next week with management and restructuring specialist Hilco said to be the front-running bidder.<br /><br />The retailer, founded in the 1960s by Sir Terence Conran, was put up for sale in October by the Kamprad family. The Kamprad family are also the rich Swedish heirs to the Ikea fortune. It is believed the family has become frustrated by losses at the firm, which has not reported a profit since 2005.<br /><br />A number of bidders are said to be battling for the chain and have registered interest with investment bank Lazard, the firm appointed to run the sale. <br /><br />The current management, led by Neil Saunders, is also believed to be a strong contender to buy the firm. Saunders has said that he could return the business to profitability by 2010 and is said to have written a three-year turnaround plan.<br /><br />But Hilco, which is famed for cutting up businesses to sell for the largest cash sum, has more financial firepower to trump any rival bid. <br /><br />Habitat, which employs more than 1,500 people, recently launched a high-profile marketing campaign with Danish supermodel Helena Christensen to revive trading. The retailer&nbsp; has 71 stores across Europe, with 35 outlets in the UK.